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- The Rise of the Dutch Republic, 1568 - 1/10 -


[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an entire meal of them. D.W.]

MOTLEY'S HISTORY OF THE NETHERLANDS, PG EDITION, VOLUME 16.

THE RISE OF THE DUTCH REPUBLIC

By John Lothrop Motley

1855

1568 [CHAPTER III.]

Preparations of the Duke against Count Louis--Precarious situation of Louis in Friesland--Timidity of the inhabitants--Alva in Friesland--Skirmishing near Groningen--Retreat of the patriots-- Error committed by Louis--His position at Jemmingen--Mutinous demonstrations of his troops--Louis partially restores order-- Attempt to destroy the dykes interrupted by the arrival of Alva's forces--Artful strategy of the Duke--Defeat of Count Louis and utter destruction of his army--Outrages committed by the Spaniards--Alva at Utrecht--Execution of Vrow van Diemen--Episode of Don Carlos-- Fables concerning him and Queen Isabella--Mystery, concerning his death--Secret letters of Philip to the Pope--The one containing the truth of the transaction still concealed in the Vatican--Case against Philip as related by Mathieu, De Thou, and others--Testimony in the King's favor by the nuncio, the Venetian envoy, and others-- Doubtful state of the question--Anecdotes concerning Don Carlos--His character.

Those measures were taken with the precision and promptness which marked the Duke's character, when precision and promptness were desirable. There had been a terrible energy in his every step, since the successful foray of Louis Nassau. Having determined to take the field in person with nearly all the Spanish veterans, he had at once acted upon the necessity of making the capital secure, after his back should be turned. It was impossible to leave three thousand choice troops to guard Count Egmont. A less number seemed insufficient to prevent a rescue. He had, therefore, no longer delayed the chastisement which had already been determined, but which the events in the north had precipitated. Thus the only positive result of Louis Nassau's victory was the execution of his imprisoned friends.

The expedition under Aremberg had failed from two causes. The Spanish force had been inadequate, and they had attacked the enemy at a disadvantage. The imprudent attack was the result of the contempt with which they had regarded their antagonist. These errors were not to be repeated. Alva ordered Count Meghem, now commanding in the province of Groningen, on no account to hazard hostilities until the game was sure. He also immediately ordered large reinforcements to move forward to the seat of war. The commanders intrusted with this duty were Duke Eric of Brunswick, Chiappin Vitelli, Noircarmes, and Count de Roeulx. The rendezvous for the whole force was Deventer, and here they all arrived on the 10th July. On the same day the Duke of Alva himself entered Deventer, to take command in person. On the evening of the 14th July he reached Rolden, a village three leagues distant from Groningen, at the head of three terzios of Spanish infantry, three companies of light horse, and a troop of dragoons. His whole force in and about Groningen amounted to fifteen thousand choice troops besides a large but uncertain number of less disciplined soldiery.

Meantime, Louis of Nassau, since his victory, had accomplished nothing. For this inactivity there was one sufficient excuse, the total want of funds. His only revenue was the amount of black mail which he was able to levy upon the inhabitants of the province. He repeated his determination to treat them all as enemies, unless they furnished him with the means of expelling their tyrants from the country. He obtained small sums in this manner from time to time. The inhabitants were favorably disposed, but they were timid and despairing. They saw no clear way towards the accomplishment of the result concerning which Louis was so confident. They knew that the terrible Alva was already on his way. They felt sure of being pillaged by both parties, and of being hanged as rebels, besides, as soon as the Governor-general should make his appearance.

Louis had, however, issued two formal proclamations for two especial contributions. In these documents he had succinctly explained that the houses of all recusants should be forthwith burned about their ears, and in consequence of these peremptory measures, he had obtained some ten thousand florins. Alva ordered counter-proclamations to be affixed to church doors and other places, forbidding all persons to contribute to these forced loans of the rebels, on penalty of paying twice as much to the Spaniards, with arbitrary punishment in addition, after his arrival. The miserable inhabitants, thus placed between two fires, had nothing for it but to pay one-half of their property to support the rebellion in the first place, with the prospect of giving the other half as a subsidy to tyranny afterwards; while the gibbet stood at the end of the vista to reward their liberality. Such was the horrible position of the peasantry in this civil conflict. The weight of guilt thus accumulated upon the crowned head which conceived, and upon the red right hand which wrought all this misery, what human scales can measure?

With these precarious means of support, the army of Louis of Nassau, as may easily be supposed, was anything but docile. After the victory of Heiliger Lee there had seemed to his German mercenaries a probability of extensive booty, which grew fainter as the slender fruit of that battle became daily more apparent. The two abbots of Wittewerum and of Heiliger Lee, who had followed Aremberg's train in order to be witnesses of his victory, had been obliged to pay to the actual conqueror a heavy price for the entertainment to which they had invited themselves, and these sums, together with the amounts pressed from the reluctant estates, and the forced contributions paid by luckless peasants, enabled him to keep his straggling troops together a few weeks longer. Mutiny, however, was constantly breaking out, and by the eloquent expostulations and vague promises of the Count, was with difficulty suppressed.

He had, for a few weeks immediately succeeding the battle, distributed his troops in three different stations. On the approach of the Duke, however, he hastily concentrated his whole force at his own strongly fortified camp, within half cannon shot of Groningen. His army, such as it was, numbered from 10,000 to 12,000 men. Alva reached Groningen early in the morning, and without pausing a moment, marched his troops directly through the city. He then immediately occupied an entrenched and fortified house, from which it was easy to inflict damage upon the camp. This done, the Duke, with a few attendants, rode forward to reconnoitre the enemy in person. He found him in a well fortified position, having the river on his front, which served as a moat to his camp, and with a deep trench three hundred yards beyond, in addition. Two wooden bridges led across the river; each was commanded by a fortified house, in which was a provision of pine torches, ready at a moment's warning, to set fire to the bridges. Having thus satisfied himself, the Duke rode back to his army, which had received strict orders not to lift a finger till his return. He then despatched a small force of five hundred musketeers, under Robles, to skirmish with the enemy, and, if possible, to draw them from their trenches.

The troops of Louis, however, showed no greediness to engage. On the contrary, it soon became evident that their dispositions were of an opposite tendency. The Count himself, not at that moment trusting his soldiery, who were in an extremely mutinous condition, was desirous of falling back before his formidable antagonist. The Duke, faithful, however, to his life-long principles, had no intentions of precipitating the action in those difficult and swampy regions. The skirmishing, therefore, continued for many hours, an additional force of 1000 men being detailed from the Spanish army. The day was very sultry, however, the enemy reluctant, and the whole action languid. At last, towards evening, a large body, tempted beyond their trenches, engaged warmly with the Spaniards. The combat lasted but a few minutes, the patriots were soon routed, and fled precipitately back to their camp. The panic spread with them, and the whole army was soon in retreat. On retiring, they had, however, set fire to the bridges, and thus secured an advantage at the outset of the chase. The Spaniards were no longer to be held. Vitelli obtained permission to follow with 2000 additional troops. The fifteen hundred who had already been engaged, charged furiously upon their retreating foes. Some dashed across the blazing bridges, with their garments and their very beards on fire. Others sprang into the river. Neither fire nor water could check the fierce pursuit. The cavalry dismounting, drove their horses into the stream, and clinging to their tails, pricked the horses forward with their lances. Having thus been dragged across, they joined their comrades in the mad chase along the narrow dykes, and through the swampy and almost impassable country where the rebels were seeking shelter. The approach of night, too soon advancing, at last put an end to the hunt. The Duke with difficulty recalled his men, and compelled them to restrain their eagerness until the morrow. Three hundred of the patriots were left dead upon the field, besides at least an equal number who perished in the river and canals. The army of Louis was entirely routed, and the Duke considered it virtually destroyed. He wrote to the state council that he should pursue them the next day, but doubted whether he should find anybody to talk with him. In this the Governor-general soon found himself delightfully disappointed.

Five days later, the Duke arrived at Reyden, on the Ems. Owing to the unfavorable disposition of the country people, who were willing to protect the fugitives by false information to their pursuers, he was still in doubt as to the position then occupied by the enemy. He had been fearful that they would be found at this very village of Reyden. It was a fatal error on the part of Count Louis that they were not. Had lie made a stand at this point, he might have held out a long time. The bridge which here crossed the river would have afforded him a retreat into Germany at any moment, and the place was easily to be defended in front. Thus he might have maintained himself against his fierce but wary foe, while his brother Orange, who was at Strasburg watching the progress of events, was executing his own long-planned expedition into the heart of the Netherlands. With Alva thus occupied in Friesland, the results of such an invasion might have been prodigious. It was, however, not on the cards for that campaign. The mutinous disposition of the mercenaries under his command had filled Louis with doubt and disgust. Bold and sanguine, but always too fiery and impatient, he saw not much possibility of paying his troops any longer with promises. Perhaps he was not unwilling to place them in a position where they would be obliged to fight or to perish. At any rate, such was their present situation. Instead of halting at Reyden, he had made his stand at Jemmingen, about four leagues distant from that place, and a little further down the river. Alva discovered this important fact soon after his arrival at Reyden, and could not conceal his delight. Already exulting at the error made by his adversary, in neglecting the important position which he now occupied himself, he was doubly delighted at learning the nature of the place which he had in preference selected. He saw that Louis had completely entrapped himself.


The Rise of the Dutch Republic, 1568 - 1/10

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